Make your own free website on

Postresearch Retirement of Monkeys and Other Nonhuman Primates

David Seelig1 and April Truitt2

Yale University1 and Primate Rescue Center, Inc.2

Wildlife sanctuaries are among the most suitable situations in which to place monkeys and other nonhuman primates at the conclusion of biomedical and other research. In the past, facilities often routinely euthanized primate subjects, especially monkeys, at the conclusion of nonterminal studies. However, this should no longer be considered acceptable, as other options exist which give the monkeys an opportunity to live out the remainder of their lives in caring, socially and environmentally enriched, surroundings. Planning for retirement is now considered a necessary component of utilizing nonhuman primates for research (Brent et al., 1997; van Akker et al., 1994). Though discussions have often focused more on chimpanzees than on monkeys, the added attention to the former species is disproportionate to the far greater number of monkeys used in research in the United States, for whom retirement considerations are equally warranted.

Reintroduction of primates into the wild is generally not possible due to ongoing habitat destruction, the infectious state of some, and the extremely high cost of rehabilitation. However, there are a limited number of legitimate sanctuaries in the United States that are willing and able to provide excellent care for veteran research primates for the remainder of their lives. Which sanctuaries meet acceptable criteria for such retirement is rarely obvious, and a large number of establishments accept primates under false pretenses. The latter may function as breeders for the exotic pet industry or as roadside exhibitors, or may simply lack the expertise, stability, or commitment to provide the primates an acceptable quality of life for the remainder of their lives.

This article is written to assist biomedical and other research facilities which may be considering retiring ex-research monkeys and other primates. It is based on Seelig's experience placing nonhuman primates for biomedical facilities, and Truitt's research into the expanding exotic pet industry. Seelig is a student at Yale University and has worked as a behaviorist at several large primate biomedical research facilities. Truitt is the director of the Primate Rescue Center, Inc., a nonprofit organization working to reduce the number of unwanted primates in need of sanctuary. This organization also operates a primate sanctuary housing fifty veteran research subjects and former pets.

The Problem of Pseudo-Sanctuaries

In one recent case among many, a well-meaning research institution donated primates to an individual who claimed that he would exhibit them in his "wildlife park". The individual, who was actually an exotic pet dealer working under false pretenses, timed the pickup of the primates to precede two exotic animal auctions scheduled one week apart. The animals which were not sold at the first auction were transported to the second, living in shipping crates in the dealer's station wagon in the interim. Situations such as this can be avoided with careful research and appropriate precautions.

When Seelig initially set out to assist in the placement of a group of fifty capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) being retired by a pharmaceutical company, he posted notices in the Primate Supply Information Clearinghouse and the former e-mail list Primate-Talk. A large number of facilities responded, promising to provide life-long care for the primates. However, few were willing to accept the monkeys if they were sterilized. Seelig visited several of the facilities with the most reasonable proposals and found that none fulfilled all of the criteria that would assure a comfortable and secure environment for the primates for their entire lives. Only after extensive research were several acceptable facilities located that were able to take the primates; the process took more than a year.

Sanctuaries in the U.S. are largely unregulated, which enables any animal breeder, dealer, or roadside zoo to add "refuge" or "conservation center" to its name. In addition, sanctuaries that do not exhibit or sell animals are not required to be licensed by the USDA. This can make it difficult or impossible for a person with little experience to distinguish a legitimate long-term animal retirement facility from an animal dealer working under false pretenses.

Characteristics of Pseudo-Sanctuaries

On paper, pseudo-sanctuaries seem to closely resemble legitimate ones. However, a site inspection reveals significant differences in facilities and in the attitudes the care staff and administration hold towards the animals.

Many pseudo-sanctuaries sell primates and their offspring as pets to support the owners and their facilities (see Footnote). Infant monkeys are sold to private owners for three to five thousand dollars each, and infant chimpanzees sell for at least twenty-five thousand dollars, providing a high incentive for breeders to misrepresent themselves to well-meaning research facilities attempting to retire primates. The presence of infant primates at an establishment is often a bad sign, as breeding of primates is prevented at legitimate sanctuaries.

Pseudo-sanctuaries routinely accept more animals than they can comfortably care for, and the quality of care may suffer as a result of overcrowding and lack of resources. Offers to take large numbers of primates for little or no charge are red flags and should be examined critically.

At pseudo-sanctuaries, housing is often sub-standard and inappropriate for the specific animals housed within. For example, monkeys are not given sufficient space or internal structures for visual and physical isolation from human observers or conspecifics. Enclosures are frequently not maintained or kept sanitary, and they are often improperly constructed for drainage or routine maintenance.

Veterinary care is afforded only the critically ill or injured. Policies, staff training, and record keeping may be nonexistent or unorganized. Operations are run on a hand-to-mouth basis, without serious thought given to a stable future for the animal population. Generally, no provisions have been made for the animals in the event of a natural disaster or the death of the owner(s), which is an important concern for anthropoid nonhuman primates, given their longevity.

Many pseudo-sanctuaries operate as for-profit enterprises, and some of these hold USDA licenses as exhibitors or dealers. However, a facility's nonprofit status provides no indication of quality of care or financial security, even if it does not breed or sell primates. Many road-side exhibitors with insufficient care and security have nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Criteria of True Wildlife Sanctuaries

The following is only an abbreviated list of the criteria that should distinguish true wildlife sanctuaries. A comprehensive, itemized list is available from the authors on request. Pivotal among the policies shared by legitimate sanctuaries is that the sanctuary functions for the animals' welfare, and thus the animals' needs hold the highest priority.

The animal enclosures are designed with the needs of the inhabitants in mind. This includes sufficient space, height, and varied internal structures for primates, as well as means for visual and physical privacy from conspecifics and human observers. Also, sufficient space is provided in indoor structures (either heated boxes or covered enclosures), particularly in climates where severe weather is possible and the animals must stay indoors for long periods. Social groups are not too large and are appropriate for the species, and compatibility of individuals is monitored. Enclosures are well constructed and maintained.

There is sufficient staff to care properly for the number of animals on hand, and a veterinarian is accessible (not necessarily on-site) for emergencies and other care needs. Animals are monitored 24 hours a day. The personnel - paid staff and volunteers - are well trained for their duties. Enrichment is given high priority within their daily routines. The diet is well-balanced nutritionally and usually includes fresh produce daily.

Animal transfer, handling, quarantine, veterinary records, and emergency protocols are available for review. True sanctuaries will not take in additional animals unless there are sufficient funds to maintain the optimum level of care and security for those already there. Legitimate wildlife sanctuaries are generally not open to the public, and have qualified as 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations with the IRS. An active board of directors is involved, and corporate procedures follow IRS guidelines. IRS tax returns (Form 990) for the prior three years are available upon request per IRS regulations.

True sanctuaries prevent primates from breeding and never sell primates. In general, sanctuaries should never have to transfer animals, once on the property, except to affiliated facilities. A facility's animal transfer policies are as important as the state of its enclosures - nice enclosures and facilities, while a prerequisite for good sanctuaries, do not necessarily indicate a secure environment in which the primates will not be bred and sold into the exotic pet trade.

Location and Placement

Identifying a responsible sanctuary can be a difficult process. When a candidate facility is located, it is impossible to ascertain by phone, without references or a site visit, whether it is truly acceptable. Because legitimate facilities are so rare, locating and/or finding appropriate referral to them can entail a significant time investment.

Facilities often place notices of available primates in the Primate Supply Information Clearinghouse (PSIC) newsletter, run by Cathy Johnson-Delaney at the Washington Regional Primate Research Center. This is a suitable means to transfer primates between laboratories, but it is not suitable for placing them in sanctuaries. Exotic pet breeders and dealers refer to the PSIC newsletter. Legitimate sanctuaries generally do not refer to PSIC or respond to posted notices of available primates. A good rule of thumb is that anyone who contacts a laboratory offering to accomodate surplus primates does not represent a true sanctuary.

Unfortunately, once appropriate facilities are located, placement can be difficult, particularly if funding is not available from the sending institution. Nearly all responsible sanctuaries limit the number of animals they are willing to accept in order to provide optimum care for those already living there. Few sanctuaries have large budgets, because they are supported solely by private and corporate foundation donations.

Most sanctuaries are concerned about the introduction of new viruses into their colonies. Though they are often willing to integrate small numbers of primates into existing groups, this may not be an option for a variety of reasons (see the following section). The incoming animals' lack of social experience may be an obstacle to integration. Also, because there is already a surplus of monkeys from research and the exotic pet industry needing retirement, all primates should be vasectomized and tubally ligated before transfer.


The following are suggestions for overcoming the problems mentioned in the previous section.

1. Locating appropriate facilities and seeking consultation. Since legitimate sanctuaries rarely seek new animals, it is necessary for research institutions to locate these facilities themselves. As unacceptable establishments vastly outnumber acceptable ones, it is recommended that research institutions without prior experience in finding retirement facilities seek consultation for referral, evaluation, and placement advice.

The authors offer to provide free phone consultation and assist with placement. Also, an accrediting organization named The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS) has been organized to monitor and provide a network of references and support for responsible sanctuaries. The current board president of TAOS is Lynn Cuny, who also has offered to provide assistance to facilities in need of primate placement. Cuny is the director of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, a respected wildlife sanctuary for ex-pet and ex-research primates, recently visited separately by both authors.

2. Evaluating candidate facilities. Since there are so many pseudo-sanctuaries, a thorough background check is essential. Visit the facility yourself, if possible, and know what characteristics to look for (described above). Do not take anyone's word for his or her own facility over the phone and, if a site visit is not possible, be sure to use reliable references.

References and accreditation by regulating organizations should be given serious attention. A USDA license is helpful, but it alone is not indicative of a facility's acceptability. Because a number of animal dealers and breeders hold USDA licenses, licensing might actually be a negative sign. If a facility does hold a USDA license, a faxed Freedom Of Information Act request to the appropriate regional office will yield copies of inspection reports, often within one week. Accreditation by the American Association for Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AZA) is usually a favorable indication, though sterilization is still recommended before sending primates to AZA-accredited (as to any other) facilities. Accreditation by TAOS is the most reliable means of assuring a comfortable, secure, and permanent environment for primates, though the number of primate facilities bearing TAOS accreditation is still small.

Most AZA-accredited facilities will not accept common research primate species such as macaques, baboons, and capuchin monkeys. A small number of non-AZA-accredited zoos with acceptable practices are willing to accept these species. These zoos should be considered (under the same criteria as sanctuaries) when looking for placement options.

3. Funding. Despite the financial constraints shared by all legitimate sanctuaries, many are receptive to retiring additional monkeys when contacted directly. The possibility of integration is dependent on compatible species and viral status, and the social composition and available enclosure space of existing groups. Often a sanctuary will be able to integrate a small number of monkeys into existing social groups and absorb the cost of care internally, although financial assistance may be requested.

Generally, integration into existing groups without the need of new enclosures is only possible with small numbers of primates. However, if your facility has no available funding for retirement, it is sometimes possible to divide your colony among several retirement facilities. Legitimate sanctuaries will never offer to purchase primates, and will usually request that your facility at least arrange and pay for transportation.

If integration into existing groups is not possible, sanctuaries will usually need financial assistance for the construction of a new enclosure, though they will often absorb some or all of the cost of caring for the primates once they arrive. Costs differ according to type of enclosure needed, which depends primarily on the species and the size and number of compatible groups that can be formed from the monkeys being retired. For example, you can expect a new enclosure for a compatible group of ten to twenty monkeys, including internal areas, to cost from twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars. The facility of origin should be willing to provide part of these costs.

4. Viral status. Sanctuaries are often uncomfortable about accepting B virus-positive macaques, so keep this in mind before breeding or acquiring them, or housing them with negative or unconfirmed animals. Sanctuaries are also reluctant to introduce new transmissible diseases into their colonies, particularly SIV, STLV, and the simian retroviruses (SRVs) for macaque species. However, facilities may be flexible if funding is available to build new enclosures for infected monkeys. New World species generally pose less of a viral risk to humans and conspecifics. It is important to test all primates, regardless of their prior housing, for tuberculosis before transferring them to a sanctuary.

5. Contraception. It is important that all primates be permanently sterilized before leaving the facility of origin, whether or not it is requested. True sanctuaries will never have objections to (and often will request) this, and laboratories should keep in mind that facilities that request reproductively viable primates for any number of reasons are probably doing so under false pretenses.

Sterilization should be performed by tubal ligation or vasectomy, not gonadectomy, as the former operations allow a wider range of species-typical social behavior and interaction.

6. Socialization. The adjustment and integration process is facilitated if attempts are made to socialize primates prior to departure, preferably in compatible groups. Social experience also facilitates a primate's ability to integrate into a new social group at the sanctuary.

It is recommended (and USDA regulations are gradually requiring) that facilities socially house all primates in pairs or groups when possible. This not only facilitates future retirement, but is a vital component of a primate laboratory's environmental enrichment program. In studies by Seelig (in prep.) at the Coulston Foundation (White Sands Research Center) and the Language Research Center (Georgia State University), as well as in similar studies conducted at other facilities (Lynch, 1998; Reinhardt, 1994; Seelig, 1998), it was found that 80% to 100% of monkeys of both sexes and all species studied can be socialized in compatible pairs, even those with little or no prior social experience.

Conclusion: Post-Research Life of Primates

Secure, post-research retirement provides monkeys and other nonhuman primates the opportunity to live out their lives in socially and environmentally enriched environments. To ensure that this is successfully accomplished, proper and timely planning is essential. Before purchasing or breeding a monkey, every research facility should include in the budget not only provision for that primate before and during the study, but also for retirement. This requires additional funds and might limit the number of primates you should acquire, or might require additional planning. Consider and plan appropriately for the additional costs and difficulties of retiring B virus-positive or SRV/STLV/SIV-infected primates before obtaining them or conducting infectious disease research. House all gregarious primates in compatible pairs or groups, preferably of the same viral status, whenever possible.

When you begin to plan retirement, you will need to research, locate, and evaluate candidate facilities. Consultation can facilitate this process and ensure that adequate placement is found. Therefore, we remind and encourage all research facilities to contact either of the coauthors for advice and referral.


Amer. Soc. of Primatologists (1998). Private ownership of primates. <>

Brent, L., Butler, T. M., & Haberstroh, J. (1997). Surplus chimpanzee crisis: Planning for the long-term needs of research chimpanzees. Lab Animal, 26, 36-39.

Chamove, A. (1998). Electric fence enclosures for pri-mates. Laboratory Primate Newsletter, 37[1], 12-14.

Leslie, M. (1998). Maintenance of non-human primates as pets. Council of State & Territorial Epidemiologists, Position Statement ID-17. [CSTE, Suite 303, 2872 Woodcock Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30341]

Lynch, R. (1998). Successful pair-housing of male macaques (Macaca fascicularis). Laboratory Primate Newsletter, 37[1], 4-5.

Ostrowski, S. R., Leslie, M. J., Parrott, T., Abelt, S., & Piercy, P. E. (1998). B-virus from pet macaque monkeys: An emerging threat in the United States? Emerging Infectious Diseases, 1998, 4[1].

Reinhardt, V. (1994). Pair-housing rather than single-housing for laboratory rhesus macaques. Journal of Medical Primatology, 23, 426-431.

Seelig, D. (1998). Pair-housing male Macaca fascicularis: A summary. Laboratory Primate Newsletter, 37[3], 14-16.

Seelig, D. (In prep.). Pair-housing of adult male longtailed macaques ameliorates stereotypic and self-injurious behavior.

van Akker, R., Balls, M., Eichberg, J. W., Goodall, J., Heeney, J. L., Osterhaus, A. D. M. E., Prince, A. M., & Spruit, I. (1994). Chimpanzees in AIDS research: A biomedical and bioethical perspective. Journal of Medical Primatology, 23, 49-51.


First author's address: 2 Glen Ct, Greenwich, CT 06830 [e-mail:].

Footnote: The Centers for Disease Control (Ostrowski, et al., 1998), the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (Leslie, 1998), and the American Society of Primatologists (1998) have recently released statements discouraging private ownership of primates due to disease risk and human-nonhuman primate incompatibility in private homes.


Reprinted by permission of April Truitt.  Thanks April!